When to Go - Issues to Consider
Everyone that has been to Walt Disney World probably has their own opinion as to the best time of year to go. Actually, there are compelling reasons to go at almost any time of the year. There are four major considerations when determining when you should go to WDW: the crowds, park hours, special events, and the weather.
Beginning in October, Walt Disney World will be hosting the fifteen month long "100 Years of Magic" Celebration, to commemorate Walt Disney's 100 birthday. The Disney - MGM Studios will be the focal point of this extravaganza, with special displays, new shows, and so on.
It's important to note, that when the Millennium Celebration was going on (from October 1 , 1999 through January 1, 2001), some of the historic patterns of crowd levels were skewed. It will be difficult to say whether or not Walt's birthday celebration will affect crowd levels as much as the Millennium did. However, I figured that after the 25th Anniversary Celebration (in 1996-97), that 1998 would be a quiet year. I was wrong. WDW, it seems, just gets a little more busy each year -- and the times of year that used to be less crowded are getting more so each year.
Traditionally, the number of people in Florida, and specifically at Walt Disney World, does vary throughout the year. In general the busiest times of the year are Christmas week and the mid-summer weeks. The disadvantage of greater crowds, of course, is longer lines for attractions. On the bright side, Disney tends to keep the parks open longer when the numbers increase. Another important fact is that Disney has a wonderful practice of adding more shows and parades and other such entertainment during busy seasons. The additional activities thin the lines down a bit (because some people are busy with the other entertainment) and are intended to be a "pay back" for the busier conditions.
Hours of Operation
Disney changes the hours of operation of the various attractions at WDW depending on the anticipated crowd levels. In general, the parks will be open earlier and stay open later when the place is packed out than those times of year when the crowds are thinner.
Here's a list of the "general" park hours:
Walt Disney World's theme parks are beautiful, almost magical, at night time. Cinderella's castle radiant with blue floodlights, Main Street's bustling thoroughfare brightly illuminated with thousands of white lights, the neon colors of Tomorrowland, the fiber optics in the Innoventions area at EPCOT, the Main Street Electrical Parade, the Water Pageant, Reflections of Earth, Fantasy in the Sky, and Sorcery in the Sky, and Fantasmic! are all breathtaking in their own ways. I highly recommend that you try to be on site for at least a few days when the parks are open into the night time hours.
Regardless of the time of year, Disney Resort guests are allowed early park access to one of the three major parks each and every day.
This issue may cause you to adjust your trip plans. There's a separate page in the WDW Trip Planning Guide that lists the announced events for this year. Examples of the official special events which occur throughout the year at WDW include the annual 250 mile CART Indy-car race, the International Flower & Garden Festival, the Animation Event, the Walt Disney World Golf Classic, the International Food & Wine Festival, Night of Joy - a contemporary Christian event at the Magic Kingdom, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and Holidays Around the World and the other wonderful Christmas festivities that take place during the month of December. (By the way, Sheila Hagen wrote a great series of articles for MousePlanet entitled "Christmas at Walt Disney World" that gives a lot of great details about what actually happens at WDW during this wonderful time of year!)
The weather of central Florida varies throughout the year much more so than most people think. Of course, extreme heat (temperatures often topping 90 degrees) and humidity characterize the summer months. During the Spring and Fall, temperatures moderate somewhat, but humidity is still high. During our trips in September, we often find temperatures in the mid-80's during the day, dipping into the lower 60's at night. In the late part of the year, and into January and February, it's very likely that you'll come across very cold (by Florida standards) temperatures that reach down into the 40's at night. Daily highs at that time of year may still poke up into the high 60's or low 70's, but you might catch a week when highs stay in the 40's or 50's.
The hurricane season in Florida officially runs from June through November. Since WDW is inland from both coasts, you don't really have to worry about gale-force winds, but you may experience torrential rain if a storm hits while you're in Florida. Actually, you have to be prepared for rain all year, though. During our early Fall trips, we've noticed a rain pattern that includes a daily torrential downpour that lasts less than a half hour early in the afternoon. Immediately following the rain, the sun usually breaks through again in all it's blazing glory. Very rarely does rain last more than a short time...but A LOT of water is dumped during those showers.